“Sneaker culture is a common language around the world,” says Hirofumi Kojima, creative director of the famous Japanese sneaker boutique Atmos. Kojima, better known to sneakerheads simply as “Koji,” was in Manila last August to visit Atmos’ Manila pop-up store in One Bonifacio High Street. He spoke through a translator, but his sentiments nevertheless rang true for the roomful of enthusiasts eager to meet him. They emphasized that the shoes on your feet are often enough to articulate who you are.
It’s this kind of non-verbal communication through fashion that has allowed sneaker culture to skyrocket in the last two decades. The clothes on your back can speak about who you are in a glance, yes, but sneakers offer even more nuance to your identity. There is the design, but there is also its cultural cache — its history, the people who made it, and the milieu in which it was released.
“Sneaker culture is a common language around the world."
Atmos was founded in 2000 in the back streets of Harajuku, Tokyo, carrying coveted sneakers and streetwear products. It was at the right place at the right time: the joint rise of sneaker and internet culture allowed it to boom, and Koji and Atmos founder Hidefumi Hommyo were there to strike while the iron was hot. They began collaborating with the likes of Nike, Adidas, Puma, and New Balance to release special editions of existing sneakers, creating the culture of hype we know today.
Apart from pioneering the boutique and brand collaboration format, Atmos became known for the designs they conjured: animal prints, vibrant colors, and other maximalist choices were incorporated into sneakers like the Atmos x Nike Air Max 1 “Elephant” from 2007 and the Atmos x Nike Air Max 95 Supreme “Animal Pack” from 2008. Atmos would go on to collaborate with more brands and rack up more than 100 sneaker releases in the last two decades. Branches opened outside of Japan, including the United States, Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and now, the Philippines.
Atmos Philippines opened the doors to its Philippine pop-up store last Mar. 17, with a permanent brick and mortar (also in One Bonifacio High Street) scheduled to open soon. In the meantime, the Atmos Philippines online store has drawn major traffic. Koji’s Manila stop was part of a small tour of Atmos’s recent expansions in Asia, followed by a visit to Kuala Lumpur. And to coincide with Koji’s visit to Manila, Atmos Philippines also released new collaborations with Bearbrick, DC x Kinnikuman, and Puma x Kamen Rider.
The event itself was not so much a proper “event” than it was a casual morning meet-up between sneaker enthusiasts. People huddled around the store’s lobby, enjoying coffee and conversations in the common language Koji spoke of. When he arrived, he was dressed unassumingly in all black and a sleek pair of black and silver Salomon XT-6 sneakers.
As he answered questions from the crowd, Koji shared his experiences in Manila, and the food he ate (adobo being his favorite). But more than food, Koji said that it was the people and the city’s creative community he was most excited about. He’s been around the world a few times, obviously, but Manila’s sneaker scene, as his translator put it, has been “killing it.”
One of the notable things from Koji’s visit was his demeanor – there was no pomp and circumstance one might expect from an industry veteran with weighty contributions to a well-loved scene. He almost seemed shy, but was warm and generous to his fans. He gamely posed for photos and signed autographs, even sitting down on a folding camper chair to ink a number of sneakers and other merchandise. It was clear that he, too, was just an enthusiast himself – brought to a foreign city by his love for the language of sneakers.